Who do we choose to let in?

Since September, I have been spending one morning a week meditating with inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary. Our sits occur in the chapel. Before entering through security I lock up my belongs: car keys, phone, wallet, hair clips, scarves (and other items which could be used as a weapon against me). Then I exchange my ID for a red badge with my picture on it. Inmates are separated by security level and if necessary their gang unit. Some weeks, I sit with the men in minimum security. The air inside the concrete passageways before and after each checkpoint is cold and stagnant. Other weeks, I sit in medium. Here the passageways are outside in the elements, surrounded by mazes of chainlink fences and razor wires. We pass through numerous gates: #8, #9, #32, #29, #17, #16. As if inside a institutionalized forrest, I could not yet find my way out without my guide. I haven't honed my instincts enough, yet; maybe next week. At each juncture, one of many gates slide open as if by magic. Security observes us from above. Two females slowing walking, careful not to move with too much purpose or mission; we wouldn't want to be seen as a threat. We are seeking an opportunity to sit in silence with a group of men who label this as some of the only silence they experience inside this fortress. 

I've continued my work with the five silent structures of Fort Lawton. Videographer Jack Leonard has rendered old video I took in 2015 to create a mock-up of a four channeled installation.  Each video will be projected on one of four walls of an enclosed room. When you step inside the room you would be virtually transported outside, surrounded by the four walls of a structure whose exterior is publicly maintained with care and yet whose interior is inaccessible and uninhabitable. The doors are locked with a dozen deadbolts. The windows have metal and plexiglass facades. Where I am able to peer through the foggy yellow plexiglass, I can see the floors inside covered with broken glass, dust so think it looks like dirt and cobwebs, so many cobwebs. The air inside must be stagnant. I wonder, should the final videos be filmed during four different seasons?  I wonder, do pedestrians ever consider the silence inside these structures. And I wonder, is representation enough for me? 

What would make absence more visible?  What would cause a person to pause and question how permeable there own interior world is to the external one?  What might inspire someone to question personal, structural and systematic incarceration? And would they consider the actions that led to this moment?

Who do we choose to let in?


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12 (suggested) Acts

Blow into a straw.
Blow into a straw submerged in a glass of water.
Blow into a straw submerged in a trickling stream.
Blow into a straw submerged in a pond.
Blow into a straw submerged in a quickly flowing river. 

Press your entire body against a parked car with its engine running. 

Place your throat against the belly of a dog
that is basking in a pool of sunlight.

Pedel a bicycle
with your hands on the pedals.

Locate a grassy knoll.
Position your body so that your back sinks into the earth,
and your head points downhill.

Take 10 deep breaths.

Move 10 inches downward.

With eyes open,
look to the sky.
Over your right shoulder. 
To the space between your tailbone and the earth.
Over your left shoulder.
To the sky again. 

Repeat, this time with eyes closed
and the bottom of your feet leading.


At the grocery store, mimic the walk of the first person you encounter in the produce department. 

Turn on an electric toothbrush.
Gently press the bristles against the crown of your head.
Then the soles of your feet.

Take a walk barefoot through a park.
Collect every fallen leaf, stick, seed, trash or rock
that touch your feet.

Tie  a string to your ring finger for 24 hours. 
Every time you notice it's presence:
       a.) pause
       b.) notice the temperature of the air against your skin
       c.) imagine that the nearest stranger's movements release the tension in every muscle in your body. 
Return to your previous task. 

Go to a coffee shot. Buy a cup of coffee. Find a seat alone.
Once seated begin to drink your beverage. After each sip, 
re-position your sits bones by moving less than a 1/4". 

Lay on your back on a carpet floor.  Clasp your bag, satchel or purse
in your arms.  Roll about without allowing it to touch the ground. 


Dedicated to to Nickels Sunshine and the Spring Whitman Somatics cohort. 
Written in May, 2017


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